As much as I try to portray myself as an enigmatic individual from a place ten leagues beyond time, what with my obscure refences and sometimes archaic language and all, I am still quite strictly a child of the 1990s. As such, I have a certain proclivity towards a certain invention of recent years—the Video Game. They divided people the world over, as some say that they are a beneficial pastime or even a form of art, and some say at best that they are a waste of time or at worst the cause of all the violence seen in our society.
I am, of course, in favor of the first one. The conflict over video games directly reflects the conflict over comic books in the 1950s that resulted in the Comics Code Authority which banned the portrayal of both zombies and hugging in comics, among other things.
Anyhow, I hold that certain forms of video games are art. Or, in the very least, a new form of storytelling that belong on a shelf beside books, movies, television, and cartoons. If you have been following my blog, you would have noticed that I am pretty into the use of storytelling to cope with extreme pain. When my migraines first hit, I spent most of my sixth-grade school year at home playing video games in the dark.
Nowadays I cannot focus at a screen when I have a migraine, but still, it worked for young me. As I said before, I consider some video games to be a form of art on par with literature. Some games like Minesweeper are kind of hard to find a story in. But beyond that, I think that the concept of video games, in their modern form beyond story, can be just as powerful as a self-help book or a motivational talk.
To explain this, I am going to talk about the most extreme, demoralizing and upsetting video game I own, the video game Dark Souls.
Dark Souls is a medieval-gothic fantasy series created by Japanese video game creator Hidetaka Miyazaki. The series is most known for its excruciatingly high difficulty level as your character fights against a backdrop of a shattered medieval world in which a zombie apocalypse has occurred and cursed everyone with zombieness. Including you.
The difficulty of this game series is incredible; the game has fairly and squarely decided that you will lose, and it is up to you to try and try again until you win despite the game. Enemies hide behind corners, and there are traps hidden everywhere. The game even has fake traps just to mess with the player. This has given the game an aura in the gaming community as a “very hard game.”
I was introduced to the game in college when the dorm directly above my head set up a TV and started playing Dark Souls above me. About every five minutes I would hear them roar with frustration and pound on their floor, which was my ceiling. So naturally I went up there and started playing myself. Then I bought it myself, and now I play it as a form of catharsis when I get too frustrated with life. Humans always need a scapegoat.
The true nature of Dark Souls is debatable and subject to many, many, many hours of YouTube videos. There is no direct story; the plot is Avant Garde and minimalistic. Instead of directly telling the player the story, there are clues hidden throughout the game. You will find a magic rock and the game will tell you:
“The shine of this stone is no ordinary polish, and can only be achieved over a long period. Some in this land are in search of such mystical stones”.
What does that really mean? I dunno. But the rock heals you. It should also be noted that Bandai Namco, the game’s producer, offered a $10,000 reward for anyone who could tell them the series’ story as a celebration of the release of the third game of the series.
That’s right, there are three of these games. It seems that games with an incredible difficulty level that fill the internet with videos of people destroying their controllers in frustration are rather popular. I’d post a link to a reaction video here, but in the full grip of frustration where you are screaming many people lose their filter and say those words that are inappropriate to say.
But this really begs a question: Why? Aren’t video games supposed to be fun? Well, I think this ties into the difference between happiness and having a good life. In our society, you must be happy, or your life is terrible. I have spent years perfecting a way to honestly answer the question “how are you today?” without lying. Because if I honestly answer, “I feel terrible,” people cannot handle it.
So, I nod and say, “I am having a good day”. But ours is also a society where sad movies are blockbusters and everyone has a sad song that they listen to on repeat more often than they would admit. Our cartoons have rough, dark undertones— the fish in SpongeBob are mutants from the radiation of the atom bombs detonated on Bikini Atoll Test Site in the ‘40s and ‘50s. The show even uses stock footage from the tests. And there is also whatever statement this is.
There is a strange division between the media that entertains us, and the current cultural narrative that you always must be happy. You don’t have to be always happy, but you can still have a fulfilled life. In the case of Dark Souls, there is an immense sense of satisfaction when you win, precisely because the game is so hard. It is much like the Greek myth of Sisyphus, only Sisyphus gets to push his rock all the way to the top and enjoy a nice refreshing beverage while Zeus and Camus weep in the distance.
When you always have to be happy, life becomes a void where only one emotion is allowed, devaluing all experiences into how happy they make you feel. Eventually you are no more than a mindless individual vaguely pursuing happiness, which all too often translates to “what can I impress my social medias with today?”, leading to five seconds of joy and many hours of depression until you can figure out a new stunt to pull. Dark Souls and sad music and movies offer an outlet for the pent-up sadness that we are not allowed to express. Likewise, SpongeBob and other cartoons that feature happy environments with terrible backstories are fulfilling cartoons’ original role—social satire.
Obviously as a migraineer I am not very fond of always having to be happy. But that does not mean I cannot be content, or have a good life. I used Dark Souls as a video game example first because I have a strange fascination with the series for many reasons. (I may write a blog post just about the game itself, because I RUN THIS BLOG). Secondly, I used it because it is extreme and difficult and frustrating, but it is still enjoyable, to the point where it has inspired a multitude of YouTube content, fan theories, and of course the hours and hours of actual time playing. By its mere difficulty it has become unique, famous, and successful. Don’t devalue your life because it is difficult, or feel that you are lesser because of your inability to obtain freakish levels of constant happiness.